Binocular Fundamentals

“…it is imperative to first cover the basic features and operations of binoculars…”

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Bob Peterson, Wildlife ecologist and L.L. Bean Visual Merchandising Lead, interacts with attendees at a recent L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School Birdwatching and Binocular Fundamentals Clinic at the Mall of America. Photo © 2017 Kelsey Wotzka

Welcome in!

It’s been a little while since I’ve reached out… thanks for checking out this edition of Zero528! Enjoy!

Birding is Fun and Easy
If I’ve inserted one main take away message for this blog, this is it!

To begin to understand the joy in birdwatching it is imperative to first cover the basic features and operations of binoculars – a key piece of equipment for the outdoor enthusiast and birdwatcher.

Unfortunately, I can’t show “how” to operate a set of binoculars, but I suspect my readers are a sharp group, and I’ve added a few resource links to aid in discovery.

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Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis), perched on my backyard fence. Be certain to ‘clean out’ bluebird boxes each spring to insure these beauties make use of the cavity nesting opportunity. Photo © 2017 R.L. Peterson

Objective of this blog:

• Understand basic types and use of binoculars

Binoculars: Fundamentals and Features

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Image © NikonSportOptics.com

Binoculars: How to Choose
A wide range of prices exist on similar-looking styles. Understanding binocular specs, such as magnification and objective lens diameter helps narrow down which pair works best for specific needs.

Binocular Size:
• Full-Size (common specs: 8 x 42, 10 x 50)
Best for serious wildlife viewing and for use on boats. Full-size binoculars capture more light and perform better in low-light situations. They usually provide steadier images and a wider field of view, so they’re great for bird watching, but they’re generally too big and heavy for backpacking
• Mid-Size (common specs: 7 x 35, 10 x 32)
Best all-around choice for wildlife and sports use. While a bit heavy for backpacking, these binoculars balance moderate size and above-average light transmission.
• Compact (common specs: 8 x 25, 10 x 25)
Best for daytime outdoor activities. These are the lightest, smallest binoculars for backpacking, but they’re less comfortable during extended periods of use.

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Great blue heron (Ardea herodias). I like to take along a camera in addition to other necessary equipment. Birds don’t always cooperate, but I like to use the pics as evidence of my sightings. Photos don’t have to be ‘perfect’ and are a great means of remembering the outing. Motto – better to take the camera and need/want/attempt to take a pic, than to want it and NOT have it. Photo © 2017 R.L. Peterson

Two Numbers
Binoculars are identified by two numbers which indicate:
1. Magnification power (e.g., 7, 8, 10)
2. Objective lens diameter (e.g., 35, 42, 50)
e.g., 8 x 42 binoculars have a magnification power of 8 and an objective lens diameter of 42mm
Binocular Magnification Power
A magnification power of 8 means that an object will appear 8 times closer than it would to the unassisted eye; e.g., when viewing a deer standing 200 yards away through 8x binoculars, it will appear as though it were 25 yards away (200 divided by 8).
NOTE: Binoculars with magnification powers greater than 10 amplify the movements or shakiness in the holder’s hands, making steady viewing difficult.
Binocular Objective Lens Diameter
The second number used in binocular identification refers to the diameter (in millimeters) of the objective lenses (those farther from the eyes / closer to the “object” being viewed).
Example: 7 x 35 binoculars have objective lenses measuring 35mm. The diameter of the objective lenses largely determines how much light the binoculars can gather. More light equates to a brighter view, particularly in low-light conditions.

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A red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) investigates a crack in this tree in my backyard – notice the foliose and crustose lichens.  Photo © R.L. Peterson

Binocular Field of View
This spec determines the width of the area (usually in feet) that can be viewed at a glance, 1,000 yards from where you stand. A wide field of view is best to find and identify objects such as birds. Usually a higher magnification power results in a narrower field of view.
Binocular Focus
Almost all binoculars feature a central focus wheel that focuses both barrels on the binoculars at the same time. They also typically include a diopter adjustment ring which focuses one barrel independently of the other. This feature compensates for differences in vision between the users eyes. Once the diopter is set, then the two barrels should stay in proper relation. From then on, focus by turning the central focusing knob.
The diopter ring is usually located on either the left or right barrel near the eyepiece.

Stay tuned for my next exciting blog- Birdwatching Fundamentals.

“Enjoy and keep a good thought!” Bob P.

Additional resources:

L.L. Bean

Nikon

All About Birds

 

 

 

Prelude to a Sunrise

“…it became difficult to make the determination where Earth ended and Heaven began…”

Beep, beep, beep – 4:45 a.m. sounded the alarm clock. I sat up in bed, wiped the crust from my sleepy eyes, and stretched forth my arms toward the ceiling. I was quite tired, and as I collected my thoughts I instantly began dreading the long day afield. But, I had a job to do, and so I got dressed and gathered my pack of research gear and equipment and headed out.

According to my calendar, sunrise was not to occur until 6:01 a.m., and I had plenty of time to make it to my final destination of Prairie State Park. It was still dark and a bit cool outside, but the 35 mile drive up Highway 43 in my pick-up truck allowed extra time to ponder my morning’s duties and activities. Neither heat nor A/C was necessary. So, I rolled down my truck window to aide in the process of becoming fully awake and alert – paying little attention to the roof liner damage which worsened as I approached full speed; the touch of the cool wind on my arm and face had invigorated my senses. I became keenly aware of the sights and sounds to which I was a grateful spectator.

With each passing mile on my journey northward the night began to magically turn to dawn. I was treated to glorious glimpses in the morning sky – sights to behold – unlike any before or since. At no cost to me, whatsoever, I’d been freely provided a front-row ticket to one of the most fantastic out-of-this-world experiences . . . a prelude to a sunrise.

Colors abounded and deep shades of pink and purple delighted my imagination. An overwhelming backdrop of light blues accompanied the white streaks of soft clouds which shifted boldly – eagerly rolling and racing across the sky. The eastern horizon line provided the contrasting dark to the light and proudly embraced its role as the point-of-no-return, the giver of day and taker of night.

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Photo ©2017 R.L. Peterson

Something special had happened before my very eyes – it is doubtful that fortuitous moment could ever be repeated. Through a rarely seen depth effect which caused the clouds to appear as a continuation of the landscape, it became difficult to make the determination where Earth ended and Heaven began . . . and it was mine to take in – just me – alone, about to witness the extraordinary birth of a new day.

“Enjoy and keep a good thought!” Bob P.

 

 

The Rite of Prairie Passage

“. . . less than 1/10th of 1 percent of Missouri’s nearly six million hectares of presettlement tallgrass prairie remains today.”

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Rough blazing star (Liatris aspera), on the campus of Missouri Southern State University’s native “prairie land.” A small portion (14 ac.) of this remnant tract was set aside, thanks in small part to the author’s unrelenting passion for preserving the site. Joplin, MO. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson

Hello again… and welcome in!

This Zero528 blog entry considers the tallgrass prairies of West-Central/Southwestern Missouri and the perilous time signifying the period during which their demise began – their composition impacted, their form altered, and their existence nearly eliminated.

It is my intention to spark interest in and create awareness of, the tallgrass prairies in North America. However, it is beyond the scope of this blog to delve too deep on the topic.

Holistic overview

The tallgrass prairie ecosystem is widely considered one of the most diverse and yet most endangered terrestrial ecosystems in North America. Many conservation efforts are being conducted to save, improve, and restore portions of remaining tallgrass prairie across its original range.

The demise of North American prairie grasslands began approximately 150 years ago with cattle replacing millions of native grazing mammals followed by the conversion of most tallgrass prairie to tilled crops (Samson and Knopf, 1994). Surely more answers exist which explain this unfortunate occurrence.

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Bison (Bison bison), resting on the native tallgrass prairie of Prairie State Park near Liberal, MO. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson

Missouri

Presettlement tallgrass prairies once covered 26.7% (47,663 km2) of the state of Missouri (Schroeder, 1983; C. Davit, Missouri Prairie Foundation, pers. comm.). Of the nearly 6 million hectares of tallgrass prairies, less than 1/10th of 1% remains today (C. Davit, pers. comm.).

Missouri’s premium tallgrass prairie region was historically the West-Central region (Schroeder, 1983). This region, situated along the central-eastern edge of the Great Plains south of the Missouri River and west of the Ozarks, was significantly impacted and severely threatened by those who sought to extend the range of the western edge of the American frontier.

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I had the fortunate opportunity during the spring of my senior year at MSSU, to monitor greater prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) via radiotelemetry on Wah’Kon-Tah prairie near El Dorado Springs, MO. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson

The highest percentage of prairie of any Missouri County was Barton County (86%) with Bates and Vernon Counties each containing 78% and 73%, respectively (Schroeder, 1983). This region currently represents the largest remaining area of native grasslands within the state.

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Located on Prairie State Park, Regal Tallgrass Prairie Natural Area was the site of my Master of Science research project – Influence of vegetation structure on density of northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) on a tallgrass prairie in southwestern Missouri. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson

Remembering the Past

Contemplate the timely exhibitions of the various blooming prairie wildflowers, which fortunately can still be witnessed, albeit on a much less grand scale.

A diverse abundance of big-game animals once roamed the grasslands unimpeded  – imagine immense herds of bison (Bison bison) thundering across the prairie, Elk (Cervus elaphus) grazing nutritious grasses, and pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) browsing forbs (non-woody flowering plants) at will.

Listen for echoes of the seemingly innumerable greater prairie-chickens  (Tympanuchus cupido) “booming” upon their leks and recall the exploits of French missionaries and traders and their influence on the Osage Indians of the region.

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Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), peeking at the horizon line on Penn-Sylvania Prairie in Dade County Missouri. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson

Recollect the terrors inflicted upon civilians by the infamous Quantrill guerrillas that patrolled with a vengeance along the western border of Missouri. Consider legendary bushwhacker outlaws including Jesse and Frank James and lawless bank robbers of the area such as the Doolin-Dalton Gang.

The Rite of Prairie Passage and the Point of No-Return

As a quail biologist/ecologist and Missouri history enthusiast (among other things), natural curiosity found me pondering the point of no-return conditions (cultural, social, environmental, etc.) marking the transition of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem in Missouri –  from its dominance to its near disappearance.

The Perfect Storm

My research indicates the culprits responsible for the downfall of the tallgrass prairies in West-Central/Southwestern Missouri, consisted of an extensive list of fortuitous occurrences. These events occurred cumulatively at an accelerated rate and spanned the time period near the dawn of the Civil War through the post-war era. A tumultuous time to be sure.

As pioneers (mostly European immigrants) pushed the boundaries of the frontier and found their little piece of the green earth, they began to keep a written account of their lives and those events happening around them and to them in West-Central/Southwestern Missouri.

In addition, as they traversed from county to county, early Missouri land surveyors logged their visual accounts of the differences in the landscape and varieties of wildlife species encountered.

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Somewhere on The Great Plains. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson

Therefore, written historical accounts provide insight into factors which cannot be discounted as potentially having deleterious effects on the tallgrass prairies of the region – the relocation of its native caretakers, the conquering spirit of the individuals who settled them, the invention of tools that broke them, the laws enacted that limited their management, the expansion of the railroad which fragmented them, the contentious livestock controversies which altered them, and the turbulent Civil War times that produced rugged vigilantes who gallivanted across them.

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Hereford cattle grazing in Oklahoma. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson

Moreover, these events were happening simultaneously and were set against the backdrop of a fire control law (burn ban), human population explosion, increased grazing pressure, cultivation of hay, invention of barbed-wire fence, martial law, lawlessness, bushwhacker violence, guerrilla warfare, oaths of Union loyalty, and Southern sympathy.

It is likely that small-scale farming by the settlers, which fragmented the landscape – coupled with the laundry list of other forces and influences noted above -had perhaps already begun to take its toll.

These combined events created the perfect storm of conditions which sparked the subsequent downward spiral of the tallgrass prairie and the habitat it provides to a host of wildlife species.

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Dickcissel (Spiza americana) male calling to a prospective mate on Prairie State Park near Liberal, MO. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson

My research describing how, when, and why the tallgrass prairie has all but disappeared in Missouri, is strengthened and formed in part through critical examination of historical records vividly describing the lives of the aforementioned pioneers who braved the western edge of civilization amidst the volatile events occurring during the mid-nineteenth century.

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Gaining momentum on my proposed signed “Prairie Passage” Auto-Tour Route for the West-Central/Southwestern region. This passage (auto-tour route) would link the highest concentration of remaining native prairie tracts within Missouri, all of which offer free public access. Image © 2016 R.L. Peterson

21st Century and Beyond

Today, only a fragment of the North American tallgrass prairies remain. In the name of conservation, preservation, and restoration, it is imperative that this precious resource, and the ecological linkages which rely on it, be protected as much as possible.

Visit the Missouri Prairie Foundation to discover how to actively participate in discovering, and helping save, Missouri’s native prairies. Additionally, visit GrowNative to ascertain information about supporting biodiversity on the local level.

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Prairie State Park (Missouri) celebrates a biennial Prairie Jubilee – a festive event for the entire family. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson.

The call is to anyone and everyone to enjoy this resource. So, don’t delay – grab a pair of binoculars, hiking boots, backpack, and/or Brooks running gear and hit the trail of a native prairie nearby. As the seasons change, so do the prairie scenes…fascinatingly beautiful.

Keep a good thought! Bob P.

SIDE NOTE: In my opinion, managing for biodiversity is key to proper prairie management. Under carefully monitored conditions and with a proper burn plan in place, fire can be an effective management tool – with the objectives being to suppress woody encroachment and to create a heterogeneous landscape necessary to support biodiversity.

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Conducting a prescribed burning exercise while interning at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, OK. Photo © 2016 R.L. Peterson

Fire suppression has occurred historically as a result of liability concerns and recently, due to severe drought conditions. For information on prescribed burning and other upland management tools, visit Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation.

All photos and images © 2016 R.L. Peterson

Literature cited:

Samson, F., and F. Knopf. 1994. Prairie conservation in North America. Bioscience 44:418-421.

Schroeder, W. A. 1983. Presettlement prairie of Missouri, second edition. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City.